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Causten Family Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS201

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the letters written by members of the Causten family over the period 1805-1820.


  • 1805 - 1820

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical/Historical note

The Causten family resided in Baltimore, Maryland, where they owned and operated a merchant house. Baltimore had established itself as one of the colony's major sea ports by the time of the Revolution, serving as a trading center for the export of corn and tobacco to England and the West Indies. After the war Britain insisted on retaining the right to control the trade between North America and the West Indies, requiring that an enumerated list of goods only be transported on British ships. The economic hardships caused by this policy on American merchants led them to return to their pre-Revolutionary practices of smuggling and bribery.

The father, Isaac, and two of his sons, Joseph and James, often accompanied the schooners owned by the merchant house on their voyages; their correspondence details their experiences at ports in South America and the West Indies. One son, Joseph, would enlist in the U.S. Navy serving as a purser aboard the U.S.S. 'Constellation' and 'Enterprise' during the War of 1812. Assigned to serve aboard the U.S.S. frigate 'Constellation' for the duration of the war, neither Joseph nor the crew would see actio. The ship never left its port in Norfolk, Viriginia, because of the British blockade. Joseph remained with the navy after the war, being present for what historians have referred to as the Navy's period of professionalization.

In the aftermath of the Tripolitan War and the War of 1812, the U.S. government was brought to the realization that a significantly strengthened navy was necessary to protect U.S. shipping interests both at home and abroad. In response to these needs, two squadrons placed under the commands of Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur were formed for the purpose of protecting U.S. merchant ships in the waters of the Mediterranean, particularly in the region of the Barbary coast. The frigate U.S.S. 'Contellation' was assigned to Commodore Decatur's squadron. In February 1815, President James Madison sent this squadron to confront the Algerian navy after Congress had declared war on the powerful Barbary coast nation for its attacks on U.S. merchant ships. After a quick and decisive battle between the two maritime nations, Decatur's squadron emerged victorious, thus ensuring the security of U.S. shipping for that region. Several of Joseph's letters recount his experiences while serving in this squadron, and make reference to the navy's successful, if not controversial, attack on a Turkish ship in 1816.

Further reading: Chapelle, Howard I. and Leon D. Polland, The COnstellation Question (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970) Engle, Elois and Arnold S. Lott. America's Martimie Heritage (ANnapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1975). Fowler, William M., Jr. Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy, 1783-1815 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984). Gruppe, Henry E., et al. The Frigates (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1979). Pratt, Fletcher. Preble's Boys: Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1950). Smith, Myron J., Jr. The American Navy 1789-1860: A Bibliography, vol. II (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1974).


0.20 Linear Feet (1 half width legal size document case)

Language of Materials


Causten Family Papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057